Category: Online Poetry
A major Chinese poet in the T’ang Dynasty, Li Po was a romantic who wrote about the joys of nature, love, friendship, solitude, and wine. While gaining a reputation as a poet, he tried in vain to become an official at court.
Li Po was born in 701 in what is now the province of Sichuan (Szechwan). He began to live as a wanderer when he was 19. After a few years he married and settled down temporarily with his wife’s family near Hankou, now a part of Wuhan. Attempts to use his poetry to gain an official position failed and, in 734, he began to wander again. In 742 he arrived at the capital city, the present-day Xi’an, and lived for a time among the other poets at court without ever getting an official appointment. In 744 he left the city and, during another period of wandering, steeped himself in the Taoist religion. In 757 Li Po joined an expedition, led by one of the emperor’s sons, to put down a rebellion in southern China. Accused of trying to set up an autonomous kingdom, the prince was arrested and executed. Li Po was jailed for a time and released. He died in 762 in the province of Anhui (Anhwei).
by Li Po (701-762)
Far up river in Szechuan,
waters rise as spring winds roar.
How can I dare to meet her now,
to brave the dangerous gorge?
The grass grows green in the valley below
where silk worms silently spin.
Her hands work threads that never end,
dawn to dusk when the cuckoo sings.
Alone and Drinking Under the Moon
Amongst the flowers I
am alone with my pot of wine
drinking by myself; then lifting
my cup I asked the moon
to drink with me, its reflection
and mine in the wine cup, just
the three of us; then I sigh
for the moon cannot drink,
and my shadow goes emptily along
with me never saying a word;
with no other friends here, I can
but use these two for company;
in the time of happiness, I
too must be happy with all
around me; I sit and sing
and it is as if the moon
accompanies me; then if I
dance, it is my shadow that
dances along with me; while
still not drunk, I am glad
to make the moon and my shadow
into friends, but then when
I have drunk too much, we
all part; yet these are
friends I can always count on
these who have no emotion
whatsoever; I hope that one day
we three will meet again,
deep in the Milky Way.
–Li Po(AD 701-762)
Translated by Rewi Alley
There was wine in a cup of gold
and a girl of fifteen from Wu,
her eyebrows painted dark
and with slippers of red brocade.
If her conversation was poor,
how beautifully she could sing!
Together we dined and drank
until she settled in my arms.
Behind her curtains
embroidered with lotuses,
how could I refuse
the temptation of her advances?
Li T’ai-po tr. Hamil
I take my wine jug out among the flowers
to drink alone, without friends.
I raise my cup to entice the moon.
That, and my shadow, makes us three.
But the moon doesn’t drink,
and my shadow silently follows.
I will travel with moon and shadow,
happy to the end of spring.
When I sing, the moon dances.
When I dance, my shadow dances, too.
We share life’s joys when sober.
Drunk, each goes a separate way.
Constant friends, although we wander,
we’ll meet again in the Milky Way.
Li T’ai-po tr. Hamil
Taking Leave of a Friend
Blue mountains to the north of the walls,
White river winding about them;
Here we must make separation
And go out through a thousand miles of dead grass.
Mind like a floating wide cloud,
Sunset like the parting of old acquaintances
Who bow over their clasped hands at a distance.
Our horses neigh to each others
as we are departing.
-Li T’ai-po, trans. Ezra Pound